The process of epistemological de-colonization of the historiography and archaeology of ancient Egypt and Nubia has begun unfolding only in the last two decades. It is still set in the context of descriptive disciplinary history with little reflection on and criticism of background theories and methods. As a consequence, some of the old approaches and concepts live on in the discipline. Utilizing the concepts of “thought collective” and “thought style” (sensu Ludwik Fleck) this paper analyzes previous works on ancient Egypt and Nubia written in the colonial discourse. Three key ideas run like threads through these works: 1. scientific racism, 2. socio-cultural evolution, and 3. colonial and imperial discourse. In this paper the emphasis will be put on scientific racism, its development, and its remnants in the archaeology and historiography of Egypt and Nubia.
Archaeology and historiography in the 1980s and 1990s were targets of postmodern criticism which manifested itself in numerous study fields, such as feminism, neo-marxism, queer, and postcolonial theory.1 Postcolonial criticism of archaeological discipline and its practice was especially strong in the former colonies,2 and in fields which were from their onset framed within imperialist and colonialist projects.3 Egyptology also found itself as the target of postcolonial criticism, primarily because of the remnants of colonialism in field archaeology in Egypt4 and the orientalist and colonialist roots of the discipline.5 Most of the criticism of colonialism dealt with the roots of Egyptology in colonial projects of France and Great Britain,6 and considerably less was done on the topic of colonial discourse within interpretations of ancient Egypt and Sudan and the application of postcolonial theory.7
The existing criticism of colonialism in Egyptology, and especially interpretations of Egyptian-Nubian interrelations, tends to primarily concentrate on some authors8 and does not situate their works within a broader context of what Ludwik Fleck termed “thought collective,” defined as “a community of persons mutually exchanging ideas or maintaining intellectual interaction.”9 According to Fleck:
The general structure of a thought collective consists of both a small esoteric circle and a larger exoteric circle, each consisting of members belonging to the thought collective and forming around any work of the mind [Denkgebilde], such as a dogma of faith, a scientific idea, or an artistic musing. A thought collective consists of many such intersecting circles. Any individual may belong to several exoteric circles but probably only to a few, if any, esoteric circles.10
By examining previous works on Egypt and Nubia, written in the colonial discourse, one can recognize a distinct thought collective, and thus better explain how certain ideas were developed and inherited after this collective was no more.
In his 1971 debate on human nature with Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault argued that within the traditional history of science, importance was given to the creativity of individuals at the expense of the analysis on how great scientific revolutions not only remove the obstacles, prejudices, and preconceived ideas on the way of gaining knowledge, but also eliminate and mask a certain amount of existing knowledge. This would act as if a new grid is applied, which while it allows the appearance of previously masked phenomena, at the same time masks existing phenomena.11 This means that ideas and concepts which are later abandoned, at least by some, continue to exist under the new grid. They do not disappear but even continue transformed. This grid consists of social and intellectual conditions which are historically contingent. It corresponds to Fleck’s “thought style” defined as a “special ‘carrier’ for the historical development of any field of thought,” and determines the formulation of every concept.12
Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar argued (in 1979) that social dimensions of how scientists work cannot be separated from the truth claims they make. In their analysis of productions of scientific knowledge, they aim to: “specify the precise time and place in the process of fact construction when a statement became transformed into a fact and hence freed from the circumstances of its production.”13
In the words of Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan one has to stress that:
The point is that in a world structured in dominance, comparisons are initiated in the name of those values, standards, and criteria that are dominant. Once the comparison is articulated and validated, the values that underwrote the comparison receive instant axiomatization as universal values.14
Historiography of any archaeology and thus also of the archaeologies of Egypt and Nubia should foster critical reflection about the fundamental structures of the discipline.15 Therefore, the purpose of this study is not to concentrate on single authors who wrote about Egypt and Nubia in colonial discourse,16 but to concentrate on the entire “thought collective” (sensu Fleck) and, following Latour’s and Woolgar’s approach, to specify the times, places, and contexts of the naissance of concepts frequently used in writing on the ancient Egyptian and Nubian past. In this paper the colonial discourse within the studies of ancient Egypt and Nubia will be analyzed as a “thought style” (sensu Fleck). One can also outline key ideas which were shared in certain stages, and which were later transformed. In the words of Foucault, these concepts stayed there although new grids were introduced. There are three key ideas which run like a thread through the works of authors dealing with Egypt and Nubia: 1. scientific racism, 2. socio-cultural evolution, and 3. colonial and imperialist discourse. This paper will analyze the development of scientific racism and its remnants in English and German speaking archaeology and historiography of Egypt and Nubia.
2 Polygenism, Negroes, and Slave Politics
Under the term scientific racism, one understands a pseudoscientific idea that there is empirical evidence for the justification of racism, including the notion of racial superiority or inferiority.17 It is the practice of the classification of individuals of different phenotypes or genotypes into predefined racial categories.18
When Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778–1823) found the tomb of Seti I in 1817, the depiction from the Book of the Gates, of what was then and often even now referred to as “four races,” fitted well into the world views of western Europeans. During this time the old division of humans into five races (Caucasian, Mongolid, Malay, Negroid and American), made by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), German physician, naturalist, physiologist, and anthropologist, in 1779, was already considered to be a scientific fact. Each of these races consisted of different peoples.19 There were two conflicted theories of race at the time, polygenism or multiple racial creations, and monogenism, arguing for common descent for all human races. In both theories the existence of races was an unquestionable fact.20
Samuel George Morton (1799–1851), an American physician and natural scientist, was a supporter of polygenism. He started collecting skulls in the 1820s and by 1851 he had more than 1000 with the purpose of testing his hypothesis that ranking of races could be established objectively by physical characteristics of the brain size.21 He published three works dealing with the sizes of human skulls: Crania Americana (1839), Crania Aegyptiaca (1844), and the entire collection in 1849. He paid attention to “the configuration of the head, the position of the ear, the form of the teeth, the colour of the skin, and the texture of the hair,” and dealt with the prevailing question of his time, namely whether civilization ascended or descended the Nile and if it originated in Egypt or Ethiopia.22 It is important to stress not only that the underlying concepts of his work are erroneous, but that his results are also empirically questionable. According to Stephen Jay Gould, historians are usually interested in how Morton’s ideas influenced others, but would generally not review whether the tables of skull measurements he did were correct and if he even reported the data correctly.23 Morton acquired cranial material from Egypt with the help of his friend George Gliddon who was an Egyptologist and United States consul for Cairo and who collected 137 skulls for Morton, of which 100 belonged to ancient Egyptians.24 In a table of cranial capacity of skulls from Egyptian tombs, Morton divided the skulls into Caucasian, Negroid, and Negro, with the Caucasian group including Pelasgic, Semitic, and Egyptian. The highest cranial capacity is, according to Morton, found in Pelasgic type whereas the lowest is in Negro type. The Egyptian type is of the lowest capacity within the Caucasian type.25 Morton’s division of Caucasian skulls was most subjective as he assigned the most bulbous crania to his favored Pelasgic type (understood as Greek forebears) and the most flattened to Egyptians, without mentioning criteria of subdivision.26 Interestingly enough, he considered the Pelasgic lineaments to be those of Greek art “remarkable for the volume of the head in comparison with that of the face, the large facial angle, and the symmetry and delicacy of the whole osteological structure.”27
One of the arguments Morton used to prove that Egyptians were not black was the comment of Ammianus Marcellinus that Egyptians blush and go red (Homines Aegyptii plerique subfusculi et atrati).28 In this, he completely neglected that Marcellinus was a Roman historian writing in the 4th century ACE who had his own agenda, and even when accurately describing the Egyptians, was describing the Egyptians of his time. Morton’s series included crania from Saqqara, Dashur, Abydos, Theban tombs, Kom Ombo, Beggeh Island near Philae, and Debood in Nubia.29 It is clear that the individuals he studied originated from various parts of Egypt and various periods of Egyptian history.
Morton never considered that differences in cranial capacity could be related to other factors, particularly importantly body size and sexual dimorphism. When Gould took the information into consideration he calculated the cranial capacity again and showed that in Morton’s sample, the male Negroid average is slightly above the Caucasian male and the female Negroid average slightly lower than Caucasian. Thus, differences in average cranial capacity in Morton’s sample from Egyptian tombs record difference in stature due to sexual dimorphism, and not variations in intelligence.30 Morton surveyed ancient Egyptian art to find evidence for his ideas. He compared Egyptian representations of women in Theban tombs to Nubian girls of his time,31 and argued that Negroes were numerous in Egypt, but that their social position in ancient times was the same as in his time, that of servants and slaves.32 Morton’s ideas were welcomed in the American south where they were used to justify slavery.33
Through his connection with George Gliddon, Morton’s ideas entered the Egyptological discourse. Gliddon was guided by the Crania Aegyptiaca in his works on ancient Egypt. He argued that one can approach ancient ethnology on the basis of Egyptian monuments.34 For him, it was questionable that the Egyptians were the offspring of Ham, although this was the prevailing opinion of the time.35 He referred to the Egyptian word “Kush” as a barbarian country and perverse race,36 and added later in his work that “civilization … could not spring from Negroes, or from Berbers, and NEVER DID.”37 Consequently the builders of “Ethiopian pyramids” (Meroitic pyramids) were a race foreign to Africa, namely white Caucasians.38 Together with Josiah Clark Nott (1804–1873), American physician and surgeon, and under the influence of Morton, he wrote the book Types of Mankind in 1854.39 Nott and Gliddon, referring to the depiction from the Book of Gates in the tomb of Seti I, wrote that Egyptians divided the mankind into four species: red, black, white and yellow.40
According to them:
The monuments of Egypt prove, that Negro races have not, during 4000 years at least, been able to make one solitary step, in Negro-land, from their savage state; the modern experience of the United States and the West Indies confirms the teachings of monuments and of history; and our remarks on Crania, hereinafter, seem to render fugacious all probability of a brighter future for these organically-inferior types, however sad the thought may be.41
Defending the idea of polygenism, they argued that principal physical characters of people may be preserved through time despite climate, mixing of races, foreign invasions, or civilizational progress, as “a type can outlive its language, history, religion, customs and recollections.”42 Comparing Egyptian representations of captive Nubians from New Kingdom monuments they argue that they obtain proof that:
the Negro has remained unchanged in Africa, above Egypt, for 8,000 years; coupled with the fact that the same type, during some eight or ten generations of sojourn in the United States, is still preserved, despite of transplantation.43
The difference in skin color of bound Nubians from Abu Simbel was taken as evidence for the existence of brown Nubians and dark Nubians, proving that division of African races existed then as in the time of Nott and Gliddon.44 Morton’s ideas that the state of the Negroes did not change through history was adopted by others, like James Hunt (1833–1839), a speech therapist and founder of the Anthropological Society of London, who argued that Egyptian monuments depict Negroes as an inferior race holding the same position to the European.45 A few decades later Felix von Luschan, an Austrian anthropologist and developer of the skin color chart, reported that in 1879 Robert Hartmann could not differentiate where the light Egyptian disappears and the Negro appears.46 Von Luschan joined the German Society for Racial Hygiene in 1908, but in his works he stressed the equality of human races. He was one of the rare scholars of his time to do this, as even his companion in the west Balkans, Arthur Evans, argued that he believed in “the existence of inferior races and would like to see them exterminated,” adding that these were his “personal mislikings.”47 Edward Burnett Tylor (1832–1917), an English anthropologist, argued that Egyptians were probably a mixed race, mainly of African origin.48 Therefore, the existence of races was not questionable, it was the attitude to members of other races which differed from scholar to scholar.
3 Hereditary Characteristics, Degradation, and Stagnation
William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853–1942) also owed much to the racial anthropology of the late 19th century. He even closely collaborated with pioneers of eugenics, Francis Galton (1822–1911) and Karl Pearson (1857–1936) and much like Gliddon sent crania to Morton, Petrie sent skeletal material from his excavations in Egypt to their UCL Anthropometric Laboratory throughout his career. In his book, Racial Photographs from the Egyptian Monuments, Petrie collected photographs of mostly 19th Dynasty depiction of foreigners organized into racial groups.49 Petrie also provided charts with cranial capacity, breadth and alveolar indices. He provided the reader with measures for Veddah, Eskim Zulu, Andaman, Australian, Negro, Algerian Dolmens, Hindu, Bushman, American Negro, Chinese, Egyptian, Polynesian, Mongol, Cuanche, and European.50 Like Morton, Gliddon, and Nott, he also referred to ancient Egyptian art in supporting his ideas on race.
Racial interpretations of ancient Egyptians and Nubians are also found in the work of German Egyptologist Heinrich Karl Brugsch (1827–1894), director of the School of Egyptology in Cairo (1870). In his work, Egypt under the Pharaohs: a History Derived Entirely from the Monuments (1891), we find many ideas about race typical for his time. Thus, Brugsch wrote:
In sixty centuries the old Egyptian race has undergone but little change; it still preserves those distinctive features of physiognomy, and those peculiarities of manners and customs, which have been handed down to us by the united testimony of the monuments and the accounts of classical writers, as the hereditary characteristics of this people.51
Commenting on the “old Egyptian race” Brugsch, much like Morton, Gliddon, Nott, and Petrie, argued that physical features together with manners and customs are hereditary characteristics which have undergone little change. Accordingly, Brugsch wrote about ancient Egyptians:
Suffice it to say, however, that, according to ethnology, the Egyptians appear to form a third branch of the Caucasian race, the family called Cushite; and this much may be regarded as certain, that in the earliest ages of humanity, far beyond all historical remembrance, the Egyptians, for reasons unknown to us, left the soil of their early home, took their way towards the setting sun, and finally crossed that bridge of nations the Isthmus of Suez, to find a new fatherland on the banks of the Nile.52
Like Morton, Gliddon, Nott, and Petrie, Brugsch sees Egyptians as a branch of the Caucasian race but he names them “Cushite.” Thus, for him, the Egyptians belong to the white race and came from the north to the banks of Nile by crossing the Suez. This is also observable in his comment on the origin of the Egyptians in Greek tradition:
According to Greek tradition the primitive abode of the Egyptian people is to be sought in Ethiopia, and the honour of founding their civilization should be given to a band of priests from Meroe. Descending the Nile, they are supposed to have settled near the later city of Thebes, and to have established the first State with a theocratic form of government. But it is not to Ethiopian priests that the Egyptian empire owes its origin its form of government, and its high civilisation; much rather was it the Egyptians themselves that first ascended the river to found in Ethiopia temples, cities, and fortified places, and to diffuse the blessings of a civilised state among the rude dark-coloured population.53
Diffusion is a concept tightly related to culture-historical archaeology. It was used to explain culture change either as the replacement of population (demic diffusion) or as the spread of influences from outside (cultural diffusion).54 Furthermore, his last comment on “dark-coloured population” demonstrates that Brugsch saw civilization as something which can be developed solely by white people but can be diffused among black people. However, Brugsch was not alone in the above discussed ideas, as we have seen in Gliddon’s and Nott’s work.
George Andrew Reisner (1867–1942), an American archaeologist of Egypt, Sudan, and Palestine, argued, based on craniometry, that the earliest population of Egypt and Nubia was racially and culturally identical, at least until the second cataract.55 According to his opinion, after the 1st Dynasty, people beyond the first cataract were less affected by the cultural development in Egypt. This he explained with “increasing change in the racial character of the people. The negroid element became more marked.”56 Relying on the work of Grafton Elliot Smith (1871–1937), an Australian-British anatomist, Egyptologist, and proponent of hyperdiffusionism,57 Reisner still argued that the population of Lower Nubia was not Negro but Negroid.
Particularly informative is his description of Lower Nubia during the Middle Kingdom:
I take my picture of the time largely from Lower Nubia as it is to-day, living its isolated, primitive agricultural life in political security, relying for its few luxuries on the sale of dates, goats, and basket-work, and on its income from servitors in the employment of Europeans. The population is now, I imagine, much the same in numbers, and much the same in culture, as it was then. The largest centres of population had then, as now, a few Egyptian officials, bullying the local inhabitants and cursing their place of exile … The imported objects were largely Egyptian—simple tools of copper, small alabaster vessels, wheel-made pots, blue-glazed beads and amulets, and perhaps certain kind of cloth; just as now one finds a few Egyptian pots, some European fabrics, petroleum tins, an occasional sewing-machine, porcelain vessels, and silver-plated spoons, the latter usually bearing the private marks of Cairo hotels! But the local culture, which has produced none of these things and is incapable of producing or even of fully utilizing them, still remains practically late Neolithic in its conditions of life. I take it that a race which cannot produce or even fully utilize the products of a higher culture must, from an historical point of view, still be counted in its former state. The evidences of the fortuitous possession of the products of a higher culture only deepen the impression of cultural incompetence.58
Reisner’s idea of degradation in Nubia was also adopted by Charles Gabriel Seligman (1873–1940) who wrote that after the period of the pyramids (Old Kingdom), Nubia must have sunk back in a dark period between the 6th and 11th Dynasties.59 Seligman was a British physician and ethnologist who intensively dealt with the Shilluk in Sudan. In his work, he refers to the archaeological survey of Nubia and the work of Reisner.60 Seligman saw the inhabitants of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan as Hamites and that the least modified of them were physically identical with Predynastic Egyptians. He argued that Nilotic Negroids of Sudan contain varying amounts of Hamitic blood.61 According to Seligman, the inhabitants of Nubia were not Negroes or even Negroid, although they may have exhibited some Negroid traits.62
Reisner also writes that although it is clear that the fine black-topped pottery he found at Kerma is Nubian, its quality excels the older Nubian products, adding that “There can be little doubt that the credit for their excellence is due to the stimulus given by the Egyptians.” According to Reisner:
Whether the work was done by local artisans, as I believe, or not, it was the genius of Egyptians which brought about the development of the craftsmen’s skill to a point never before attained in Nubia. At home or abroad, the Egyptian retained his love of fine workmanship.63
4 The Hamitic Question
Hermann Junker (1877–1962) was a strong advocate of the idea that Africa is inhabited by Hamites and Negroes. According to him, the Negroes are dominated by Hamitic superstratum and all degrees of intermixture are to be found. Junker argues that Negroes are not only distinguished on the basis of skin color, but also other features he took over from anthropologists Douglas E. Derry (1874–1961), von Luschan, Smith, and Rudolf Pöch (1870–1921).64 Most of his students, like Wilhelm Czermak (1889–1953), Ernst Zyhlarz (1890–1914), Johannes Lukas (1901–1980), and Werner Vycichl (1909–1999), who studied at the Institute for Egyptology and African Studies Junker founded in Vienna in 1923, dealt with the Hamite question.65 However, Junker disagreed with Reisner on the origin of Kerma. Junker described Kerma culture as a curiosity, considering that its bearers are native Nubians and that it is a highly developed African culture of the 2nd millennium BCE. According to Junker, Kerma is actually the only African high culture from the pre-Christian period which does not consciously lean on Egypt like the Meroitic culture.66 This is indeed interesting if one considers that some time before Junker’s research, such an idea was unimaginable by Morton, Gliddon, Nott, Brugsch, and Reisner. However, such a standpoint as Junker’s is to be explained with his association of all cultures of the Nile Valley to light-skinned Hamites and not dark-skinned Negroes.67 Junker even wrote that Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom had contact with Nubian Hamites, and that the first contact with Negroes came in the New Kingdom,68 an opinion which, thanks to his work, established a common place in Egyptology. However, there were authors like Leo Reinisch (1832–1919) who questioned both the methods and conclusions based on racial anthropology.69 Junker also sent skeletal material to Vienna, like Gliddon did for Morton, and Petrie for Galton and Pearson, where it was to be studied in the anthropological department of the Natural History Museum. The involved anthropologists were Josef Szombathy (1853–1943), Viktor Lebzelter (1889–1936), Carl Toldt (1840–1920), and Pöch, and their aim was to analyze the crania in relation to local cultural development or immigration, pure raced or mixed population.70 The view of Reisner that Nubian A-group and the contemporary Egyptian population was the same was also taken by Georg Steindorff (1861–1951), chair of Egyptology in Leipzig and excavator of Giza, Qau, and Aniba. Like Reisner, Steindorff also argued that cultural changes occurred when Negroid elements from the south changed the racial character of the Nubians. However, in the same vein as Junker’s work, he referred to A-Group as being Hamitic.71
James Henry Breasted (1865–1935), father of American Egyptology and founder of the Oriental Institute in Chicago, also shared the racial ideas about mankind we find in works of early Egyptologists:
If we look outside of the Great Northwest Quadrant, we find in the neigh‑ boring territory only two other clearly distinguished races—the Mongoloids on the east and the Negroes on the south. These peoples occupy an important place in the modern world, but they played no part in the rise of civilization.72
Like Gliddon, Nott, Brugsch, and Reisner, Breasted and Junker excluded races other than white from the development of civilization. Breasted, like Junker, argued that the geographical spreading of the white race (e.g. Hamites) was much wider and included Egypt and Nubia.
5 Races and Colors
Racial ideas are found also in works of those early Egyptologists who dealt solely with epigraphy and iconography. Nina de Garis Davies (1881–1965) argued that the register with the Upper Nubian embassy depicted in the tomb of Huy, viceroy of Nubia under Tutankhamun, depicts figures whose features appear most pronouncedly Negroid. She further adds that “Professor Seligman” argues that all the Nubians depicted here belong to “mesaticephalic stock” which stretches at least from Darfur in the west, through Kordofan, to the hills of the Dar Fung province in the east.73 The professor is to be identified with no other than previously mentioned Charles Gabriel Seligman, a proponent of the Hamitic hypothesis, according to whom some civilizations in Africa have been founded by Caucasoid Hamitic peoples.74 Ni. Davies further added that it should be noted that the alteration of black and dark red complexions are most probably a graphic device to give clarity to individual figures.75 This differs significantly from the ideas of Gliddon, Nott, and Seligman who saw the difference in skin color in ancient Egyptian art as indicator of racial difference. Similarly, Norman de Garis Davies differentiates between Nubian women and Negresses in New Kingdom Egyptian iconography. Nubian women accordingly have longish hair.76 Thus, the use of ancient Egyptian art as evidence in combination with racial science continued from the time of Morton, Gliddon, Nott, and Petrie. At the same time, the racial division between Nubians and Negroes had been firmly established.
The term race was also used by Walter B. Emery (1902–1971) who like Petrie considered Egyptian civilization to be the result of the invasion of a dynastic race and who argued for an Egyptian colonial presence in Lower Nubia since the Old Kingdom. He also distinguished between the Brown or Mediterranean race, which was inhabiting Lower Nubia, and the Negroid race living further south, considering Wawat and Kush to be distinct both racially and culturally.77 Nevertheless, following the line of previous scholars, he argued that the people of Kush were not Negroes “as we understand the term applied to this racial group today.” Instead he claimed that “The Egyptians used the term ‘Negro’ to designate all the dark-skinned peoples of the south, whatever their race.”78 Emery wrote that Nubia was one of the battlegrounds of the ancient world where black and white people were struggling for the supremacy of north Africa.79 According to Rosemarie Drenkhahn, the Egyptian word nḥsj refers to all southerners including Puntites since the Old Kingdom and only beginning with the 19th Dynasty designates “Neger-Rasse”—a Negro race. She argued that there was no special designation for the Negroes although one can see racial differences in the iconography which are especially strong in New Kingdom foreigners’ procession scenes.80
Racial anthropology was further practiced to reconstruct the racial background and population changes in ancient Egypt. Thus, Eugen Strouhal (1931–2016) argued that “Negroes and Negroids penetrated to Egypt only sporadically, and their frequency, uneven according to time, place and the diagnostical knowledge of the investigator, has been estimated as 1 to 5 per cent.”81 He used craniometry in his racial diagnosis and compared different series of skeletal material, such as the Badarian series, Wadi Qatna series in Nubia (4th century AC), Manfalout series from Upper Egypt (Ptolemaic), and recent Nilotes. He concluded that Badarian skulls extend from Europod to the Negroid range.82 Strouhal writes that the Wadi Qatna series was Europoid-Negroid and that the Manfalout series was Europoid. However, he does not explicitly write about which criteria he used as a basis to sort out these two series in order to analyze the Badarian series. According to Strouhal, during Predynastic times the frequency of distinctively Negroid features was fading and was re-introduced sporadically during the Dynastic period and later in connection to the slave trade.83
The distinctions between populations based on skin color as depicted in ancient Egyptian art, a method going back to Morton, Gliddon, Nott, Petrie, Seligman, No. Davies, and Drenkhahn, are found also in later works. Thus, for Bruce Trigger (1937–2006) a difference in color (Fig. 1) is an indication of the origin and consequently the status of depicted figures:
The plantation scene in the tomb of the Nubian prince Djehutyhotep suggests that he may have been producing dates for export to Egypt. It is also possible that the distinction between black and brown skinned workmen in this scene is between Lower Nubians who worked as serfs on his estates and Negro slaves who came from farther south.84
This is based on the observation that the skin color and other physical traits of the Nilotic population change gradually from north to south. The assumption is the same as in the works of Morton, Gliddon, Nott, Petrie, Seligman, and No. Davies, namely that ancient Egyptian art depicts realistic physical differences in populations and differentiates between lighter skinned Nubians and darker skinned Negroes. Seligman also wrote that:
in passing southwards there is a slight tendency towards negritization: it has been pointed out that the eye and skin colour darken, that the proportion of unusually broad noses increases, and that spiral and crisp hair becomes more frequent.85
This idea was expressed by Trigger too:
On an average, between the Delta in northern Egypt and the Sudd of the Upper Nile, skin color tends to darken from light brown to what appears to the eye as bluish black, hair changes from wavy-straight to curly or kinky, noses become flatter and broader, lips become thicker and more everted, teeth enlarge in size from small to medium, height and linearity of body build increase to culminate in the extremely tall and thin Nilotic populations of the south and bodies become less hirsute (Brace 1964). All of these people are Africans. To proceed further and divide them into Caucasoid and Negroid stocks is to perform an act that is arbitrary and wholly devoid of historical or biological significance.86
The view advocated by Trigger was also taken by László Török, who argued that although the idea of pure races is abandoned and the ideology of racial superiority discredited, it is valid to argue that there is a continuum in the physical types of the Middle Nile Region. He also argues that the real distinction between these types could have inspired iconographic distinction between Lower Nubian type of brown skin, curly or frizzy hair and facial features close to those of Egyptians, and Upper Nubian type with black skin, everted lips, prognathous jaws, broad nose and nasolabial furrows.87 The problem lies not in the fact that there are different physical types along the Nile Valley, but in the fact that the methodology used to transfer physical features from reality to iconography and vice versa is not much different than that of Morton, Gliddon, Nott, Petrie, Seligman, and No. Davies. Clearly, one has to agree with Ni. Davies in her assertion that differences in skin color are there due to the necessity for clarity in depicting the figures. The Nubians in the tomb of Huy coming from Wawat are depicted in alternating black and brown. The same can be observed in other New Kingdom depictions of Nubians, such the slaughter of Nubians on the painted box of Tutankhamun where the painter used figures in different colors (black and brown) to avoid the effect of indiscernible mass of enemies. Other physical features of Nubians and other foreigners are more often than not exaggerated in ancient Egyptian art. It seems that Trigger and Török, although distancing themselves from the racial approach to anthropology of Egypt and Nubia, still utilized some ideas which have their background in racial science. By the time they were writing these ideas had become deeply ingrained in Egyptology, so that not many would doubt that skin color in iconography reflects actual physical features and not culturally observed difference.
Although criticizing the division of the Nilotic population into Caucasoid and Negroid, as we have seen in other contexts, Trigger makes a similar but more nuanced distinction. Namely, not only does he divide the figures of different skin colors on racial ground, but he uses this racial ground to assign them status (servants or slaves), although neither the depictions nor the texts accompanying the scene allow him that. Furthermore, Trigger’s binary opposition north-south parallel to the binary opposition servant-slave, strongly resembles the division between the North and the South in the American Civil War (1861–1865), the result of a controversy over slavery after the 1860 presidential election in which Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans supported banning slavery in all U.S. territories in 1860. Seven southern slave states declared their secession from the U.S. in 1861.
Considering the legacy of racial sciences and ideas which originate from it, but were not reflected on, it does not come as a surprise that The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt not only has an entry on race but describes it in the following way:
Examination of human remains from the Predynastic period shows a mixture of racial types, including Negroid, Mediterranean and European, and by the time that Pharaonic civilization had fully emerged it was no longer meaningful to look for a particular Egyptian racial type, since they were clearly, already, to some extent at least, a mixed population … Clearly, despite the highly developed iconography of foreigners, it was nevertheless possible for many different racial types to consider themselves Egyptian.”88
The racial discourse continued to appear in archaeological and Egyptological works on New Kingdom Nubia decades after criticism of scientific racism in anthropology and archaeology. It is nicely illustrated in a passage written by Donald B. Redford (1934–):
One should never underestimate the overwhelming and irresistible attraction of the way of life of the triumphant imperial culture, whether Egyptian, Hellenic, Roman, or British. Something more than a grudging admiration had overcome Nubian chiefs such as Heḳa-nefer or Ruya: they had “realized” that to be Egyptian mean to be an Übermensch.89
There is much revealed in this sentence. First and foremost, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Britain are described as imperial cultures. Secondly, Britain is set at the end of a line of consecutive empires. Thirdly, Nubian chiefs are said to have realised that being Egyptian means to be Übermensch, a concept from the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883) he refers to Übermensch as a goal which humanity is to set for itself. However, the context of Redford’s sentence, and its structure, indicate that he understands Übermensch as something superior. This idea of Übermensch standing for superior human was actually advocated by the Nazi regime, and such an understanding of Nietzsche’s philosophy was used as the foundation for National Socialist ideas. Far from arguing that Redford’s passage has a national socialist agenda, my point here is that one has to be more critical towards the terms used to describe certain phenomena. By utilizing the concept of Übermensch to argue for the view of superiority of the Egyptians in the eyes of the Nubians, Redford may be unwillingly making associations to concepts and ideas tied to racial superiority of one at the expense of other.
The interpretations of ancient Egypt and Nubia in racial terms did not significantly change over time, however, their use for building political arguments about some modern populations have diminished. The authors who distance themselves from a racial approach to anthropology nevertheless inherited some of the ideas which originate from racial science.
It is clear that development of racial anthropology and scientific racism during the 19th and first half of the 20th century has a strong reflection in the writings of Egyptologists who dealt with ancient Egypt and Nubia in that time. It is necessary to consider the fact that the authors belonging to a thought collective are not only “children of their time,” as it is often argued by those reluctant towards history of archaeology as an endeavor. As pointed out by Kathleen L. Sheppard in the case of Petrie, none of the scholars advocating scientific racism were “badly mislead,” but were part of a distinct class of men and women closely collaborating together and exchanging both material from Egypt, and their ideas about it.90 We see this in the formation of several esoteric circles within a thought collective under the umbrella of the same colonial thought style. The works of Morton, Gliddon, Nott, Petrie, Brugsch, Seligman, Reisner, and Breasted fit well within what Trigger termed colonialist archaeology, which serves to denigrate native societies and peoples by attempting to demonstrate that they had been static in the past and lacked the initiative for development.91 This is based on the legacy of scientific racism and polygenism, or multiple racial creations which served well in justifying not only colonialism, but enslavement and the statues of slaves outside the colonies.92 Therefore, interpretations of ancient Egypt and Nubia were put to the service of politics of the middle to late 19th and early 20th century.93
Morton, Gliddon, and Nott were part of one esoteric circle (sensu Fleck); Petrie, Galton, and Pearson of another; Reisner, Smith and Seligman of a third; Seligman and the Davies couple of a fourth (Fig. 2). It is interesting that the ideas of Reisner, accepted and contextualized further by Seligman, re-emerge in the work of Ni. Davies through her consultation with Seligman himself, but they do not entirely shape her interpretations. Ni. Davies saw a graphic device for distinguishing figures where others saw explicit representations of differences in skin color as racial difference. This of course demonstrates that although sharing some general ideas, members of the same circle do not always have the same opinions. Brugsch, von Luschan, Junker, Breasted, Emery, and Drenkhahn did not belong to any of these four esoteric circles, but to a broader exoteric circle of the same thought collective.
Although the works of Brugsch and Breasted are in line with others, von Luschan and Junker expressed some disagreements. Junker was the center of his own esoteric circle, and he expressed disagreements with Reisner on Kerma. Whereas Reisner did not see Kerma as an indigenous Nubian culture because he interpreted Nubians as being racially different than Egyptians, Junker interpreted Kerma as an indigenous culture because he considered it to be Hamitic, which for him meant being white. Different views on the race of the carriers of Kerma culture directly influenced different interpretations of this culture. The thought style was nevertheless the same, as the general idea of racial science was not questioned.
Certain ideas of early advocates of racial divisions of Nubia, such as the racial distinction between Lower and Upper Nubia, are found in Steindorff, Drenkhahn, Emery, and Strouhal. They can be positioned in the broader exoteric circle of the same thought collective which was built around several previously mentioned esoteric circles. The idea that Egyptian iconography depicts real observed differences in skin color rather than culturally constructed differences was rooted in racial science.
Although later authors such as Trigger and Török distanced themselves from racial science and anthropology, they kept this approach to iconography. What we can notice here are the remnants of the old colonialist episteme which appear in the works of Trigger, Török, and Redford, however now being part of a new episteme (sensu Foucault). Trigger, Török, and Redford did not belong to the above defined thought collective. What connects them to its esoteric and exoteric circles are the remnants of the ideas of the old thought collective, found re-contextualized in their works. The colonial legacy of such ideas has to be acknowledged no matter in which episteme they find themselves. Epistemological de-colonization of our discipline should not only be a postcolonial criticism of its past, but a fundamental rethinking of its colonial remnants in the present, and how these remnants still shape our interpretations of Egypt and Nubia.
Ambridge, L.J. “Imperialism and Racial Geography in James Henry Breasted’s Ancient Times, a History of the Early World.” In Egyptology from the First World War to the Third Reich, T. Schneider and P. Raulwing, eds., 12‒33. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
Berner, M. “Skelettreste aus den Grabungen von Hermann Junker. Bestände in der Anthropologischen Abteilung des Naturhistorischen Museums Wien.” In Hermann Junker. Eine Spurensuche im Schatten der österreichischen Ägyptologie und Afrikanistik, C. Gütl, ed., 93‒101. Göttingen: Cuvillier Verlag, 2017.
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Breasted, J.H. Ancient Times. A History of the Early World: An Introduction to the Study of Ancient History and the Career of Early Man. Revised 2nd Edition. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1935.
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Dann, R.J. “Interpreting Ancient Nubia” In Current Research in Egyptology 2004. Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Symposium University of Durham 2004, R.J. Dann, ed., 43‒50. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2006.
Davies, Norman d.G. The tomb of Ḥuy, viceroy of Nubia in the reign of Tut’ankhamūn (no. 40). Theban Tomb Series 3. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1926.
Drenkhahn, R. Darstellungen von Negern in Ägypten. Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde der Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Hamburg. Hamburg, 1967.
Evans, A. Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on foot during the insurrection, August and September 1875: with an historical review of Bosnia, and a glimpse at the Croats, Slavonians, and the ancient republic of Ragusa. London: Longmans, Green, 1877.
Gütl, C., ed. Herman Junker. Eine Spurensuche im Schatten der österrichischen Ägyptologie und Afrikanistik. Göttingen: Cuvillier Verlag, 2017.
Hunt, J. Negro’s Place in Nature: A Paper Read before the London Anthropological Society. New York: Van Evrie, Horton & Co., 1864.
Junker, H. “Bemerkungen zur Kerma Kunst.” In Studies presented to F. LI. Griffith, S.R.K. Glanville, ed., 297‒303. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1932.
Matić, U. “Der ‘dritte Raum’, Hybridität und das Niltal: Das epistemologische Potenzial der postkolonialen Theorie in der Ägyptologie.” In Interkulturalität: Kontakt—Konflikt—Konzeptionalisierung. Beiträge des sechsten Berliner Arbeitskreises Junge Ägyptologie (BAJA 6), A. Verbovsek, et al. , eds., 93‒111. Göttinger Orientforschungen 63. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 2017.
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Matić, U. “Der ‘dritte Raum’, Hybridität und das Niltal: Das epistemologische Potenzial der postkolonialen Theorie in der Ägyptologie.”In Interkulturalität: Kontakt—Konflikt—Konzeptionalisierung. Beiträge des sechsten Berliner Arbeitskreises Junge Ägyptologie (BAJA 6), , eds., , A. Verbovsek et al. 93‒ 111. Göttinger Orientforschungen 63. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, . 2017
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Meskell, L. “The Practice and Politics of Archaeology in Egypt.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 925.1 (2000): 146‒169.
Morton, S.G. Crania Aegyptiaca or Observations on Egyptian Ethnography derived from Anatomy, History and the Monuments. London: Madden & Co, 1844.
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Nott, J.C. and G.R. Gliddon. Types of Mankind or Ethnological Researches based upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races. London: Trübner & Co, 1854.
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Reisner, G.A. The Archaeological Survey of Nubia. Report for 1907–1908 I. Archaeological Report. Cairo: National Printing Department, 1910.
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Rohrbacher, P. “Hellhäutige Hamiten. Hermann Junker und die neuorientierte Hamitistik in Wien (1919–1945).”In Hermann Junker. Eine Spurensuche im Schatten der österreichischen Ägyptologie und Afrikanistik, , ed., C. Gütl 103‒ 128. Göttingen: Cuvillier Verlag.
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Seligman, C.G. “Some Aspects of the Hamitic Problem in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan,” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 43 (1913): 593‒705.
Shaw, I. and P. Nicholson. The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1995.
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Strouhal, E. “Evidence of the Early Penetration of Negroes into Prehistoric Egypt.” The Journal of African History 12.1 (1971): 1‒9.
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Webster, J. “Roman imperialism and the ‘post-imperial age’.” In Roman Imperialism: Post-colonial perspectives, J. Webster and N. Cooper, eds., 1‒17. Leicester Archaeology Monographs 3. Leicester: University of Leicester, 1996.
Webster, J. and N. Cooper, eds. Roman Imperialism: Post-colonial perspectives. Leicester Archaeology Monographs 3. Leicester: University of Leicester, 1996.
Johnson, Archaeological Theory.
E.g. Liebmann and Rizvi, Archaeology and The Postcolonial Critique; Lydon and Rizvi, Handbook of Postcolonial Archaeology.
E.g. Roman archaeology in Britain, see Webster and Cooper, Roman Imperialism; Hingley, Roman Officers and English Gentlemen.
Meskell, “The Practice and Politics of Archaeology in Egypt.”
Said, Orientalism; Reid, Whose Pharaohs?
Reid, Whose Pharaohs?
Van Pelt, “Revising Egypto-Nubian Relations”; Matić, “Der ‘dritte Raum’, Hybridität und das Niltal”; As Jane Webster wrote, the question is to what extent does our position within “post imperial” condition cause us to reassess not only ancient imperialism but also the epistemological basis of our discipline which developed in the context of Western imperialism? Webster, “Roman imperialism and the ‘post-imperial age’,” 1.
Van Pelt, “Revising Egypto-Nubian Relations”; Matić, “Der ‘dritte Raum’, Hybridität und das Niltal.”
Fleck, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, 39.
Fleck, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, 105.
Chomsky and Foucault, The Chomsky-Foucault Debate on Human Nature, 15‒19; Wiktor Stoczkowski argued in his defense of history of archaeology that scientific thought is a combinatory activity as it operates with an organised set of pre-existing ideas which are modified according to the rules of internal transformation triggered by external stimuli, Stoczkowski, “How to benefit from received ideas,” 25.
Fleck, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, 39, 9.
Latour and Woolgar, Laboratory Life, 105.
Radhakrishnan, Theory in an Uneven World, 74.
Murray and Spriggs, “The historiography of archaeology,” 151.
Some excellent reflections on the works of single authors are found in Ambridge, “Imperialism and Racial Geography”; Gütl, Herman Junker.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 112.
There is no place in this paper for a summary of the development of scientific racism. For this one can turn to a vast number of other more detailed works: Gould, The Mismeasure of Man; Jones, The Archaeology of Ethnicity; Orser, Race and Practice in Archaeological Interpretation. The term race has through time acquired an array of different, often contradictory meanings, as it was used to signify ethnic, linguistic, territorial, class, and other groups; see Jones, The Archaeology of Ethnicity, 41.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 402.
Lorimer, “Theoretical Racism in Late Victorian Anthropology, 1870–1900,” 405.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 83.
Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 1.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 26; Similarly, although Rachael J. Dann expressed correct negative criticism towards the racial science of Grafton Elliot Smith in Nubia, she nevertheless argued that he used “apparently objective methodology” when she refers to his craniological method; Dann, “Interpreting Ancient Nubia,” 45.
Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 1.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 86.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 92.
Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 3. This goes back to none other than Petrus Camper (1722–1789), a Dutch physician, anatomist, physiologist, zoologist, paleontologist, and anthropologist. Camper developed the “facial angle” formed by drawing two lines: one horizontally from the nostril to the ear; and the other perpendicularly from the advancing part of the upper jawbone to the most prominent part of the forehead. He claimed that Greco- Roman statues presented an angle of 100°-95°, Europeans of 80°, “Orientals” of 70°, Black people of 70° and the orangutan of 42–58°. He stated that, out of all races, Africans were most removed from the Classical sense of ideal beauty; Meijer, “Cranial Varieties in the Human and Orangutan Species,” 37‒38; Therefore, an ancient social construct and beauty ideal entered anthropological measurements as a value found in nature to which other measurements were compared and scaled.
Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 28.
Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 4.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 95. Negroids turned out with a lower average than Caucasians not because they were innately stupider but because the Negroid sample contained a higher percentage of smaller statured females, Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 100.
Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 24.
Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 66.
Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 101.
Gliddon, Ancient Egypt, 11.
“for, if these unhappy descendants of Ham were under a curse, how was it, if Ham be the parent of the Egyptians, that these unfortunate people were the most civilized of antiquity? how was it, that this accursed race enjoyed, for 2500 years, the fairest portion of the earth? how came it that these unhappy people held the descendants of Shem in bondage, or in tribute, during 1000 years before Cambyse, B. C. 525?” Gliddon, Ancient Egypt, 18.
Gliddon, Ancient Egypt, 24.
Gliddon, Ancient Egypt, 58; original emphasis.
Gliddon, Ancient Egypt, 59.
Nott himself was the owner of nine slaves and claimed that “the negro achieves his greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also greatest longevity, in a state of slavery.” Nott, “Statistics of Southern Slave Population,” 281.
Nott and Gliddon, Types of Mankind, 84.
Nott and Gliddon, Types of Mankind, 95‒96.
Nott and Gliddon, Types of Mankind, 96.
Nott and Gliddon, Types of Mankind, 249‒50.
Nott and Gliddon, Types of Mankind, 250.
Hunt, Negro’s Place in Nature, 13.
Von Luschan, Völker, Rassen, Sprachen, 32.
Evans, Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on foot during the insurrection, 312.
Tylor, Anthropology, 240‒41.
Petrie, Racial Photographs. This project was actually supported by Galton and the British Association for the Advancement of Science which provided the generous grant; Sheppard, “Flinders Petrie and Eugenics at UCL,” 19.
Petrie and Quibell, Naqada and Ballas, Pl. LXXXIV.
Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, 2.
Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, 2‒3.
Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, 3.
In early archaeology, diffusion was the key explanatory model within the theories of the “rise and spread of civilization” which could be summarized under the umbrella term monocentric hyper diffusionism. Usually, one “high culture” (Egypt, Mesopotamia) is imagined as the center from which civilization spreads rapidly, Champion, “Egypt and the Diffusion of Culture.”
Reisner, The Archaeological Survey of Nubia, 319 and Excavations at Kerma I–III, 5; This opinion was shared by Seligman, “Some Aspects of the Hamitic Problem,” 612.
Reisner, Excavations at Kerma I–III, 6; For similar arguments see Seligman, “Some Aspects of the Hamitic Problem,” 614.
Champion, “Egypt and the Diffusion of Culture”; Regarding the skull from Kerma 1065A Smith writes: “There is no sign of any Negro traits. The skull conforms in every respect to the more refined type found in Egyptian tombs, especially of the wealthier classes, throughout the greater part of the historic period. It presents a very close resemblance to certain skulls from great Theban tombs of the New Empire … it may therefore be looked upon as evidence suggesting relationship to the more aristocratic type of Egyptians.” Smith, “Note on the Skull of Kerma 1065A,” 39.
Reisner, Excavations at Kerma I–III, 7.
Seligman, Races of Africa, 113.
Seligman, Races of Africa, 112.
Seligman, “Some Aspects of the Hamitic Problem,” 595.
Seligman, “Some Aspects of the Hamitic Problem,” 611.
Reisner, “Excavations at Kerma II,” 49.
Junker, “The First Appearance of the Negroes in History,” 121‒22.
Rohrbacher, “Hellhäutige Hamiten,” 109‒22.
Junker, “Bemerkungen zur Kerma Kunst,” 297.
Rohrbacher, “Hellhäutige Hamiten,” 104.
Junker, “The First Appearance of the Negroes in History.”
Rohrbacher, “Hellhäutige Hamiten,” 106‒08.
Berner, “Skelettreste aus den Grabungen von Hermann Junker,” 94.
Steindorff, Aniba I, 1‒4.
Breasted, Ancient Times, 131.
Davies, The tomb of Ḥuy, 24.
Seligman, Races of Africa, 97.
Davies, The tomb of Ḥuy, 25.
Davies, The tomb of Rekh-mi-rē’ at Thebes, 30.
Emery, Egypt in Nubia, 133‒35.
Emery, Egypt in Nubia, 158.
Emery, Egypt in Nubia, 15.
Drenkhahn, Darstellungen von Negern in Ägypten, 14‒15.
Strouhal, “Evidence of the Early Penetration of Negroes into Prehistoric Egypt,” 1.
Strouhal, “Evidence of the Early Penetration of Negroes into Prehistoric Egypt,” 4.
Strouhal, “Evidence of the Early Penetration of Negroes into Prehistoric Egypt,” 8‒9.
Trigger, Nubia under the Pharaohs, 130.
Seligman, Races of Africa, 108‒09.
Trigger, Nubia under the Pharaohs, 27.
Török, The Kingdom of Kush, 36.
Shaw and Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, 239‒40.
Redford, From Slave to Pharaoh, 10.
Sheppard, “Flinders Petrie and Eugenics at UCL,” 23.
Trigger, “Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist,” 363.
Like Richard Hingley argued for Roman archaeology, however erroneous some comparisons are they were nevertheless attractive to those who used them in order to also understand their own imperial condition, Hingley, Roman Officers and English Gentlemen, 2.
After all, as Said wrote: “Appeals to the past are among the commonest of strategies in interpretations of the present.” Said, Culture and Imperialism, 3.